The Social Significance of the Modern Drama/Henrik Ibsen

The Scandinavian Drama

The Social Significance
of the Modern Drama



IN a letter to George Brandes, shortly after the Paris Commune, Henrik Ibsen wrote concerning the State and political liberty:

"The State is the curse of the individual. How has the national strength of Prussia been purchased? By the sinking of the individual in a political and geographical formula. … The State must go! That will be a revolution which will find me on its side. Undermine the idea of the State, set up in its place spontaneous action, and the idea that spiritual relationship is the only thing that makes for unity, and you will start the elements of a liberty which will be something worth possessing."

The State was not the only bête noire of Henrik Ibsen. Every other institution which, like the State, rests upon a lie, was an iniquity to him. Uncompromising demolisher of all false idols and dynamiter of all social shams and hypocrisy, Ibsen consistently strove to uproot every stone of our social structure. Above all did he thunder his fiery indictment against the four cardinal sins of modern society: the Lie inherent in our social arrangements; Sacrifice and Duty, the twin curses that fetter the spirit of man; the narrow-mindedness and pettiness of Provincialism, that stifles all growth; and the Lack of Joy and Purpose in Work which turns life into a vale of misery and tears.

So strongly did Ibsen feel on these matters, that in none of his works did he lose sight of them. Indeed, they recur again and again, like a Leitmotif in music, in everything he wrote. These issues form the keynote to the revolutionary significance of his dramatic works, as well as to the psychology of Henrik Ibsen himself.

It is, therefore, not a little surprising that most of the interpreters and admirers of Ibsen so enthusiastically accept his art, and yet remain utterly indifferent to, not to say ignorant of, the message contained in it. That is mainly because they are, in the words of Mrs. Alving, "so pitifully afraid of the light." Hence they go about seeking mysteries and hunting symbols, and completely losing sight of the meaning that is as clear as daylight in all of the works of Ibsen, and mainly in the group of his social plays, "The Pillars of Society," "A Doll's House," "Ghosts," and "An Enemy of the People."


The disintegrating effect of the Social Lie, of Duty, as an imposition and outrage, and of the spirit of Provincialism, as a stifling factor, are brought out with dynamic force in "The Pillars of Society."

Consul Bernick, driven by the conception of his duty toward the House of Bernick, begins his career with a terrible lie. He sells his love for Lona Hessel in return for the large dowry of her step-sister Betty, whom he does not love. To forget his treachery, he enters into a clandestine relationship with an actress of the town. When surprised in her room by the drunken husband, young Bernick jumps out of the window, and then graciously accepts the offer of his bosom friend, Johan, to let him take the blame.

Johan, together with his faithful sister Lona, leaves for America. In return for his devotion, young Bernick helps to rob his friend of his good name, by acquiescing in the rumors circulating in the town that Johan had broken into the safe of the Bernicks and stolen a large sum of money.

In the opening scene of "The Pillars of Society," we find Consul Bernick at the height of his career. The richest, most powerful and respected citizen of the community, he is held up as the model of an ideal husband and devoted father. In short, a worthy pillar of society.

The best ladies of the town come together in the home of the Bernicks. They represent the society for the "Lapsed and Lost," and they gather to do a little charitable sewing and a lot of charitable gossip. It is through them we learn that Dina Dorf, the ward of Bernick, is the issue of the supposed escapade of Johan and the actress.

With them, giving unctuous spiritual advice and representing the purity and morality of the community, is Rector Rorlund, hidebound, self-righteous, and narrow-minded.

Into this deadening atmosphere of mental and social provincialism comes Lona Hessel, refreshing and invigorating as the wind of the plains. She has returned to her native town together with Johan.

The moment she enters the house of Bernick, the whole structure begins to totter. For in Lona's own words, "Fie, fie—this moral linen here smells so tainted—just like a shroud. I am accustomed to the air of the prairies now, I can tell you. . . . Wait a little, wait a little—we'll soon rise from the sepulcher. We must have broad daylight here when my boy comes."

Broad daylight is indeed needed in the community of Consul Bernick, and above all in the life of the Consul himself.

It seems to be the psychology of a lie that it can never stand alone. Consul Bernick is compelled to weave a network of lies to sustain his foundation. In the disguise of a good husband, he upbraids, nags, and tortures his wife on the slightest provocation. In the mask of a devoted father, he tyrannizes and bullies his only child as only a despot used to being obeyed can do. Under the cloak of a benevolent citizen he buys up public land for his own profit. Posing as a true Christian, he even goes so far as to jeopardize human life. Because of business considerations he sends The Indian Girl, an unseaworthy, rotten vessel, on a voyage, although he is assured by one of his most capable and faithful workers that the ship cannot make the journey, that it is sure to go down. But Consul Bernick is a pillar of society; he needs the respect and good will of his fellow citizens. He must go from precipice to precipice, to keep up appearances.

Lona alone sees the abyss facing him, and tells him: "What does it matter whether such a society is supported or not? What is it that passes current here? Lies and shams—nothing else. Here are you, the first man in the town, living in wealth and pride, in power and honor, you, who have set the brand of crime upon an innocent man." She might have added, many innocent men, for Johan was not the only one at whose expense Karsten Bernick built up his career.

The end is inevitable. In the words of Lona: "All this eminence, and you yourself along with it, stand on a trembling quicksand; a moment may come, a word may be spoken, and, if you do not save yourself in time, you and your whole grandeur go to the bottom."

But for Lona, or, rather, what she symbolizes, Bernick—even as The Indian Girl—would go to the bottom.

In the last act, the whole town is preparing to give the great philanthropist and benefactor, the eminent pillar of society, an ovation. There are fireworks, music, gifts and speeches in honor of Consul Bernick. At that very moment, the only child of the Consul is hiding in The Indian Girl to escape the tyranny of his home. Johan, too, is supposed to sail on the same ship, and with him, Dina, who has learned the whole truth and is eager to escape from her prison, to go to a free atmosphere, to become independent, and then to unite with Johan in love and freedom. As Dina says: "Yes, I will be your wife. But first I will work, and become something for myself, just as you are. I will give myself, I will not be taken."

Consul Bernick, too, is beginning to realize himself. The strain of events and the final shock that he had exposed his own child to such peril, act like a stroke of lightning on the Consul. It makes him see that a house built on lies, shams, and crime must eventually sink by its own weight. Surrounded by those who truly love and therefore understand him, Consul Bernick, no longer the pillar of society, but the man become conscious of his better self.

"Where have I been?" he exclaims. "You will be horrified when you know. Now, I feel as if I had just recovered my senses after being poisoned. But I feel—I feel that I can be young and strong again. Oh, come nearer—closer around me. Come, Betty! Come, Olaf! Come, Martha! Oh, Martha, it seems as though I had never seen you in all these years. And we—we have a long, earnest day of work before us; I most of all. But let it come; gather close around me, you true and faithful women. I have learned this, in these days: it is you women who are the Pillars of Society."

Lona: "Then you have learned a poor wisdom, brother-in-law. No, no; the spirit of Truth and of Freedom—these are the Pillars of Society."

The spirit of truth and freedom is the socio-revolutionary significance of "The Pillars of Society." Those, who, like Consul Bernick, fail to realize this all-important fact, go on patching up The Indian Girl, which is Ibsen's symbol for our society. But they, too, must learn that society is rotten to the core; that patching up or reforming one sore spot merely drives the social poison deeper into the system, and that all must go to the bottom unless the spirit of Truth and Freedom revolutionize the world.


In "A Doll's House" Ibsen returns to the subject so vital to him,—the Social Lie and Duty,—this time as manifesting themselves in the sacred institution of the home and in the position of woman in her gilded cage.

Nora is the beloved, adored wife of Torvald Helmer. He is an admirable man, rigidly honest, of high moral ideals, and passionately devoted to his wife and children. In short, a good man and an enviable husband. Almost every mother would be proud of such a match for her daughter, and the latter would consider herself fortunate to become the wife of such a man.

Nora, too, considers herself fortunate. Indeed, she worships =her husband, believes in him implicitly, and is sure that if ever her safety should be menaced, Torvald, her idol, her god, would perform the miracle.

When a woman loves as Nora does, nothing else matters; least of all, social, legal or moral considerations. Therefore, when her husband's life is threatened, it is no effort, it is joy for Nora to forge her father's name to a note and borrow 800 cronen on it, in order to take her sick husband to Italy.

In her eagerness to serve her husband, and in perfect innocence of the legal aspect of her act, she does not give the matter much thought, except for her anxiety to shield him from any emergency that may call upon him to perform the miracle in her behalf. She works hard, and saves every penny of her pin-money to pay back the amount she borrowed on the forged check.

Nora is lighthearted and gay, apparently without depth. Who, indeed, would expect depth of a doll, a "squirrel," a song-bird? Her purpose in life is to be happy for her husband's sake, for the sake of the children; to sing, dance, and play with them. Besides, is she not shielded, protected, and cared for? Who, then, would suspect Nora of depth? But already in the opening scene, when Torvald inquires what his precious "squirrel" wants for a Christmas present, Nora quickly asks him for money. Is it to buy macaroons or finery? In her talk with Mrs. Linden, Nora reveals her inner self, and forecasts the inevitable debacle of her doll's house.

After telling her friend how she had saved her husband, Nora says: "When Torvald gave me money for clothes and so on, I never used more than half of it; I always bought the simplest things. . . . Torvald never noticed anything. But it was often very hard, Christina dear. For it's nice to be beautifully dressed. Now, isn't it? . . . Well, and besides that, I made money in other ways. Last winter I was so lucky—I got a heap of copying to do. I shut myself up every evening and wrote far into the night. Oh, sometimes I was so tired, so tired. And yet it was splendid to work in that way and earn money. I almost felt as if I was a man."

Down deep in the consciousness of Nora there evidently slumbers personality and character, which could come into full bloom only through a great miracle—not the kind Nora hopes for, but a miracle just the same.

Nora had borrowed the money from Nils Krogstad, a man with a shady past in the eyes of the community and of the righteous moralist, Torvald Helmer. So long as Krogstad is allowed the little breathing space a Christian people grants to him who has once broken its laws, he is reasonably human. He does not molest Nora. But when Helmer becomes director of the bank in which Krogstad is employed, and threatens the man with dismissal, Krogstad naturally fights back. For as he says to Nora: "If need be, I shall fight as though for my life to keep my little place in the bank. . . . It's not only for the money: that matters least to me. It's something else. Well, I'd better make a clean breast of it. Of course you know, like every one else, that some years ago I—got into trouble. . . . The matter never came into court; but from that moment all paths were barred to me. Then I took up the business you know about. I was obliged to grasp at something; and I don't think I've been one of the worst. But now I must clear out of it all. My sons are growing up; for their sake I must try to win back as much respectability as I can. This place in the bank was the first step, and now your husband wants to kick me off the ladder, back into the mire. Mrs. Helmer, you evidently have no idea what you have really done. But I can assure you that it was nothing more and nothing worse that made me an outcast from society. . . . But this I may tell you, that if I'm flung into the gutter a second time, you shall keep me company."

Even when Nora is confronted with this awful threat, she does not fear for herself, only for Torvald,—so good, so true, who has such an aversion to debts, but who loves her so devotedly that for her sake he would take the blame upon himself. But this must never be. Nora, too, begins a fight for life, for her husband's life and that of her children. Did not Helmer tell her that the very presence of a criminal like Krogstad poisons the children? And is she not a criminal?

Torvald Helmer assures her, in his male conceit, that "early corruption generally comes from the mother's side, but of course the father's influence may act in the same way. And this Krogstad has been poisoning his own children for years past by a life of lies and hypocrisy—that's why I call him morally ruined."

Poor Nora, who cannot understand why a daughter has no right to spare her dying father anxiety, or why a wife has no right to save her husband's life, is surely not aware of the true character of her idol. But gradually the veil is lifted. At first, when in reply to her desperate pleading for Krogstad, her husband discloses the true reason for wanting to get rid of him: "The fact is, he was a college chum of mine—there was one of those rash friendships between us that one so often repents later. I don't mind confessing it—he calls me by my Christian name; and he insists on doing it even when others are present. He delights in putting on airs of familiarity—Torvald here, Torvald there! I assure you it's most painful to me. He would make my position at the bank perfectly unendurable."

And then again when the final blow comes. For forty-eight hours Nora battles for her ideal, never doubting Torvald for a moment. Indeed, so absolutely sure is she of her strong oak, her lord, her god, that she would rather kill herself than have him take the blame for her act. The end comes, and with it the doll's house tumbles down, and Nora discards her doll's dress—she sheds her skin, as it were. Torvald Helmer proves himself a petty Philistine, a bully and a coward, as so many good husbands when they throw off their respectable cloak.

Helmer's rage over Nora's crime subsides the moment the danger of publicity is averted—proving that Helmer, like many a moralist, is not so much incensed at Nora's offense as by the fear of being found out. Not so Nora. Finding out is her salvation. It is then that she realizes how much she has been wronged, that she is only a plaything, a doll to Helmer. In her disillusionment she says, "You have never loved me. You only thought it amusing to be in love with me."

Helmer. Why, Nora, what a thing to say!

Nora. Yes, it is so, Torvald. While I was at home with father he used to tell me all his opinions and I held the same opinions. If I had others I concealed them, because he would not have liked it. He used to call me his doll child, and play with me as I played with my dolls. Then I came to live in your house— . . . I mean I passed from father's hands into yours. You settled everything according to your taste; and I got the same tastes as you; or I pretended to—I don't know which—both ways perhaps. When I look back on it now, I seem to have been living here like a beggar, from hand to mouth. I lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and father have done me a great wrong. It's your fault that my life has been wasted. . . .

Helmer. It's exasperating! Can you forsake your holiest duties in this way?

Nora. What do you call my holiest duties?

Helmer. Do you ask me that? Your duties to your husband and children.

Nora. I have other duties equally sacred.

Helmer. Impossible! What duties do you mean?

Nora. My duties toward myself.

Helmer. Before all else you are a wife and a mother.

Nora. That I no longer believe. I think that before all else I am a human being, just as much as you are—or, at least, I will try to become one. I know that most people agree with you, Torvald, and that they say so in books. But henceforth I can't be satisfied with what most people say, and what is in books. I must think things out for myself and try to get clear about them. . . . I had been living here these eight years with a strange man, and had borne him three children—Oh! I can't bear to think of it—I could tear myself to pieces!. . . . I can't spend the night in a strange man's house.

Is there anything more degrading to woman than to live with a stranger, and bear him children? Yet, the lie of the marriage institution decrees that she shall continue to do so, and the social conception of duty insists that for the sake of that lie she need be nothing else than a plaything, a doll, a nonentity.

When Nora closes behind her the door of her doll's house, she opens wide the gate of life for woman, and proclaims the revolutionary message that only perfect freedom and communion make a true bond between man and woman, meeting in the open, without lies, without shame, free from the bondage of duty.


THE social and revolutionary significance of Henrik Ibsen is brought out with even greater force in "Ghosts" than in his preceding works.

Not only does this pioneer of modern dramatic art undermine in "Ghosts" the Social Lie and the paralyzing effect of Duty, but the uselessness and evil of Sacrifice, the dreary Lack of Joy and of Purpose in Work are brought to light as most pernicious and destructive elements in life.

Mrs. Alving, having made what her family called a most admirable match, discovers shortly after her marriage that her husband is a drunkard and a roué. In her despair she flees to her young friend, the divinity student Manders. But he, preparing to save souls, even though they be encased in rotten bodies, sends Mrs. Alving back to her husband and her duties toward her home.

Helen Alving is young and immature. Besides, she loves young Manders; his command is law to her. She returns home, and for twenty-five years suffers all the misery and torture of the damned. That she survives is due mainly to her passionate love for the child born of that horrible relationship—her boy Oswald, her all in life. He must be saved at any cost. To do that, she had sacrificed her great yearning for him and sent him away from the poisonous atmosphere of her home.

And now he has returned, fine and free, much to the disgust of Pastor Manders, whose limited vision cannot conceive that out in the large world free men and women can live a decent and creative life.

Manders. But how is it possible that a—a

young man or young woman with any decent principles can endure to live in that way?—in the eyes of all the world!

Oswald. What are they to do? A poor young

artist—a poor girl. It costs a lot of money to get married. What are they to do?

Manders. What are they to do? Let me tell

you, Mr. Alving, what they ought to do. They ought to exercise self-restraint from the first; that's what they ought to do.

Oswald. Such talk as that won't go far with warmblooded young people, over head and ears in love.

Mrs. Alving. No, it wouldn't go far.
Manders. How can the authorities tolerate

such things? Allow it to go on in the light of day? (To Mrs. Alving.) Had I not cause to be deeply concerned about your son? In circles where open immorality prevails, and has even a sort of prestige——!

Oswald. Let me tell you, sir, that I have

been a constant Sunday-guest in one or two such irregular homes——

Manders. On Sunday of all days!
Oswald. Isn't that the day to enjoy one's

self? Well, never have I heard an offensive word, and still less have I ever witnessed anything that could be called immoral. No; do you know when and where I have found immorality in artistic circles?

Manders. No! Thank heaven, I don't!
Oswald. Well, then, allow me to inform you.

I have met with it when one or other of our pattern husbands and fathers has come to Paris to have a look around on his own account, and has done the artists the honor of visiting their humble haunts. They knew what was what. These gentlemen could tell us all about places and things we had never dreamed of.

Manders. What? Do you mean to say that respectable

men from home here would——?

Oswald. Have you never heard these respectable

men, when they got home again, talking about the way in which immorality was running rampant abroad?

Manders. Yes, of course.

Mrs. Alving. I have, too.
Oswald. Well, you may take their word for

it. They know what they are talking about! Oh! that that great, free, glorious life out there should be defiled in such a way!

Pastor Manders is outraged, and when Oswald leaves, he delivers himself of a tirade against Mrs. Alving for her "irresponsible proclivities to shirk her duty."

Manders. It is only the spirit of rebellion

that craves for happiness in this life. What right have we human beings to happiness? No, we have to do our duty! And your duty was to hold firmly to the man you had once chosen and to whom you were bound by a holy tie. . . . It was your duty to bear with humility the cross which a Higher Power had, for your own good, laid upon you. But instead of that you rebelliously cast away the cross. . . . I was but a poor instrument in a Higher Hand. And what a blessing has it not been to you all the days of your life, that I got you to resume the yoke of duty and obedience!

The price Mrs. Alving had to pay for her yoke, her duty and obedience, staggers even Dr. Manders, when she reveals to him the martyrdom she had endured those long years.

Mrs. Alving. You have now spoken out, Pastor

Manders; and to-morrow you are to speak publicly in memory of my husband. I shall not speak to-morrow. But now I will speak out a little to you, as you have spoken to me. . . . I want you to know that after nineteen years of marriage my husband remained as dissolute in his desires as he was when you married us. After Oswald's birth, I thought Alving seemed to be a little better. But it did not last long. And then I had to struggle twice as hard, fighting for life or death, so that nobody should know what sort of a man my child's father was. I had my little son to bear it for. But when the last insult was added; when my own servant-maid——Then I swore to myself: This shall come to an end. And so I took the upper hand in the house—the whole control over him and over everything else. For now I had a weapon against him, you see; he dared not oppose me. It was then that Oswald was sent from home. He was in his seventh year, and was beginning to observe and ask questions, as children do. That I could not bear. I thought the child must get poisoned by merely breathing the air in this polluted home. That was why I placed him out. And now you can see, too, why he was never allowed to set foot inside his home so long as his father lived. No one knows what it has cost me. . . . From the day after to-morrow it shall be for me as though he who is dead had never lived in this house. No one shall be here but my boy and his mother. (From within the dining-room comes the noise of a chair overturned, and at the same moment is heard:)

Regina (sharply, but whispering). Oswald!

take care! are you mad? let me go!

Mrs. Alving (starts in terror). Ah! (She stares stares wildly toward the half-opened door. Oswald is heard coughing and humming inside.)
Manders (excited). What in the world is the

matter? What is it, Mrs. Alving?

Mrs. Alving (hoarsely). Ghosts! the couple

from the conservatory has risen again!

Ghosts, indeed! Mrs. Alving sees this but too clearly when she discovers that though she did not want Oswald to inherit a single penny from the purchase money Captain Alving had paid for her, all her sacrifice did not save Oswald from the poisoned heritage of his father. She learns soon enough that her beloved boy had inherited a terrible disease from his father, as a result of which he will never again be able to work. She also finds out that, for all her freedom, she has remained in the clutches of Ghosts, and that she has fostered in Oswald's mind an ideal of his father, the more terrible because of her own loathing for the man. Too late she realizes her fatal mistake:

Mrs. Alving. I ought never to have concealed

the facts of Alving's life. But . . . in my superstitious awe for Duty and Decency I lied to my boy, year after year. Oh! what a coward, what a coward I have been! . . . Ghosts! When I heard Regina and Oswald in there, it was as though I saw the Ghosts before me. But I almost think we are all of us Ghosts, Pastor Manders. It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that "walks" in us. It is all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid of them. . . . There must be Ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sand of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light. . . . When you forced me under the yoke you called Duty and Obligation; when you praised as right and proper what my whole soul rebelled against, as something loathsome. It was then that I began to look into the seams of your doctrine. I only wished to pick at a single knot; but when I had got that undone, the whole thing raveled out. And then I understood that it was all machine-sewn. . . . It was a crime against us both.

Indeed, a crime on which the sacred institution is built, and for which thousands of innocent children must pay with their happiness and life, while their mothers continue to the very end without ever learning how hideously criminal their life is.

Not so Mrs. Alving who, though at a terrible price, works herself out to the truth; aye, even to the height of understanding the dissolute life of the father of her child, who had lived in cramped provincial surroundings, and could find no purpose in life, no outlet for his exuberance. It is through her child, through Oswald, that all this becomes illumed to her.

Oswald. Ah, the joy of life, mother; that's

a thing you don't know much about in these parts. I have never felt it here. . . . And then, too, the joy of work. At bottom, it's the same thing. But that too you know nothing about. . . . Here people are brought up to believe that work is a curse and a punishment for sin, and that life is something miserable, something we want to be done with, the sooner the better. . . . Have you noticed that everything I have painted has turned upon the joy of life? always, always upon the joy of life?—light and sunshine and glorious air, and faces radiant with happiness? That is why I am afraid of remaining at home with you.

Mrs. Alving. Oswald, you spoke of the joy

of life; and at that word a new light burst for me over my life and all it has contained. . . . You ought to have known your father when he was a young lieutenant. He was brimming over with the joy of life! . . . He had no object in life, but only an official position. He had no work into which he could throw himself heart and soul; he had only business. He had not a single comrade that knew what the joy of life meant—only loafers and boon companions—— . . . So that happened which was sure to happen. . . . Oswald, my dear boy; has it shaken you very much?

Oswald. Of course it came upon me as a great

surprise, but, after all, it can't matter much to me.

Mrs. Alving. Can't matter! That your father

was so infinitely miserable!

Oswald. Of course I can pity him as I would

anybody else; but——

Mrs. Alving. Nothing more? Your own father!
Oswald. Oh, there! "Father," "father"!

I never knew anything of father. I don't remember anything about him except—that he once made me sick.

Mrs. Alving. That's a terrible way to speak!

Should not a son love his father, all the same?

Oswald. When a son has nothing to thank his

father for? has never known him? Do you really cling to the old superstition?—you who are so enlightened in other ways?

Mrs. Alving. Is that only a superstition?

In truth, a superstition—one that is kept like the sword of Damocles over the child who does not ask to be given life, and is yet tied with a thousand chains to those who bring him into a cheerless, joyless, and wretched world.
The voice of Henrik Ibsen in "Ghosts" sounds like the trumpets before the walls of Jericho. Into the remotest nooks and corners reaches his voice, with its thundering indictment of our moral cancers, our social poisons, our hideous crimes against unborn and born victims. Verily a more revolutionary condemnation has never been uttered in dramatic form before or since the great Henrik Ibsen.

We need, therefore, not be surprised at the vile abuse and denunciation heaped upon Ibsen's head by the Church, the State, and other moral eunuchs. But the spirit of Henrik Ibsen could not be daunted. It asserted itself with even greater defiance in "An Enemy of Society,"—a powerful arraignment of the political and economic Lie,—Ibsen's own confession of faith.


DR. THOMAS STOCKMANN is called to the position of medical adviser to the management of the "Baths," the main resource of his native town.

A sincere man of high ideals, Dr. Stockmann returns home after an absence of many years, full of the spirit of enterprise and progressive innovation. For as he says to his brother Peter, the town Burgomaster, "I am so glad and content. I feel so unspeakably happy in the midst of all this growing, germinating life. After all, what a glorious time we do live in. It is as if a new world were springing up around us."

Burgomaster. Do you really think so?
Dr. Stockmann. Well, of course, you can't

see this as clearly as I do. You've spent all your life in this place, and so your perceptions have been dulled. But I, who had to live up there in that small hole in the north all those years, hardly ever seeing a soul to speak a stimulating word to me—all this affects me as if I were carried to the midst of a crowded city—I know well enough that the conditions of life are small compared with many other towns. But here is life, growth, an infinity of things to work for and to strive for; and that is the main point.

In this spirit Dr. Stockmann sets to his task. After two years of careful investigation, he finds that the Baths are built on a swamp, full of poisonous germs, and that people who come there for their health will be infected with fever.

Thomas Stockmann is a conscientious physician. He loves his native town, but he loves his fellow-men more. He considers it his duty to communicate his discovery to the highest authority of the town, the Burgomaster, his brother Peter Stockmann.

Dr. Stockmann is indeed an idealist; else he would know that the man is often lost in the official. Besides, Peter Stockmann is also the president of the board of directors and one of the heaviest stockholders of the Baths. Sufficient reason to upbraid his reckless medical brother as a dangerous man:

Burgomaster. Anyhow, you've an ingrained

propensity for going your own way. And that in a well-ordered community is almost as dangerous. The individual must submit himself to the whole community, or, to speak more correctly, bow to the authority that watches over the welfare of all.

But the Doctor is not disconcerted: Peter is an official; he is not concerned with ideals. But there is the press,—that is the medium for his purpose! The staff of the People's Messenger—Hovstad, Billings, and Aslaksen, are deeply impressed by the Doctor's discovery. With one eye to good copy and the other to the political chances, they immediately put the People's Messenger at the disposal of Thomas Stockmann. Hovstad sees great possibilities for a thorough radical reform of the whole life of the community.

Hovstad. To you, as a doctor and a man of

science, this business of the water-works is an isolated affair. I fancy it hasn't occurred to you that a good many other things are connected with it. . . . The swamp our whole municipal life stands and rots in. . . . I think a journalist assumes an immense responsibility when he neglects an opportunity of aiding the masses, the poor, the oppressed. I know well enough that the upper classes will call this stirring up the people, and so forth, but they can do as they please, if only my conscience is clear.

Aslaksen, printer of the People's Messenger, chairman of the Householders' Association, and agent for the Moderation Society, has, like Hovstad, a keen eye to business. He assures the Doctor of his whole-hearted coöperation, especially emphasizing that, "It might do you no harm to have us middle-class men at your back. We now form a compact majority in the town—when we really make up our minds to. And it's always as well, Doctor, to have the majority with you. . . . And so I think it wouldn't be amiss if we made some sort of a demonstration. . . . Of course with great moderation, Doctor. I am always in favor of moderation; for moderation is a citizen's first virtue—at least those are my sentiments."

Truly, Dr. Stockmann is an idealist; else he would not place so much faith in the staff of the People's Messenger, who love the people so well that they constantly feed them with high-sounding phrases of democratic principles and of the noble function of the press, while they pilfer their pockets.

That is expressed in Hovstad's own words, when Petra, the daughter of Dr. Stockmann, returns a sentimental novel she was to translate for the People's Messenger: "This can't possibly go into the Messenger," she tells Hovstad; "it is in direct contradiction to your own opinion."

Hovstad. Well, but for the sake of the cause—
Petra. You don't understand me yet. It is

all about a supernatural power that looks after the so-called good people here on earth, and turns all things to their advantage at last, and all the bad people are punished.

Hovstad. Yes, but that's very fine. It's

the very thing the public like.

Petra. And would you supply the public with

such stuff? Why, you don't believe one word of it yourself. You know well enough that things don't really happen like that.

Hovstad. You're right there; but an editor

can't always do as he likes. He often has to yield to public opinion in small matters. After all, politics is the chief thing in life—at any rate for a newspaper; and if I want the people to follow me along the path of emancipation and progress, I mustn't scare them away. If they find such a moral story down in the cellar, they're much more willing to stand what is printed above it—they feel themselves safer.

Editors of the stamp of Hovstad seldom dare to express their real opinions. They cannot afford to "scare away" their readers. They generally yield to the most ignorant and vulgar public opinion; they do not set themselves up against constituted authority. Therefore the People's Messenger drops the "greatest man" in town when it learns that the Burgomaster and the influential citizens are determined that the truth shall be silenced. The Burgomaster soundly denounces his brother's "rebellion."

Burgomaster. The public doesn't need new

ideas. The public is best served by the good old recognized ideas that they have already. . . . As an official, you've no right to have any individual conviction.

Dr. Stockmann. The source is poisoned, man!

Are you mad? We live by trafficking in filth and garbage. The whole of our developing social life is rooted in a lie!

Burgomaster. Idle fancies—or something worse. The man who makes such offensive insinuations against his own native place must be an enemy of society.

Dr. Stockmann. And I must bear such treatment!

In my own house. Katrine! What do you think of it?

Mrs. Stockmann. Indeed, it is a shame and

an insult, Thomas—— . . . But, after all, your brother has the power——

Dr. Stockmann. Yes, but I have the right!
Mrs. Stockmann. Ah, yes, right, right! What

is the good of being right when you haven't any might?

Dr. Stockmann. What! No good in a free society

to have right on your side? You are absurd, Katrine. And besides, haven't I the free and independent press with me? The compact majority behind me? That's might enough, I should think!

Katrine Stockmann is wiser than her husband. For he who has no might need hope for no right. The good Doctor has to drink the bitter cup to the last drop before he realizes the wisdom of his wife.

Threatened by the authorities and repudiated by the People's Messenger, Dr. Stockmann attempts to secure a hall wherein to hold a public meeting. A free-born citizen, he believes in the Constitution and its guarantees; he is determined to maintain his right of free expression. But like so many others, even most advanced liberals blinded by the spook of constitutional rights and free speech, Dr. Stockmann inevitably has to pay the penalty of his credulity. He finds every hall in town closed against him. Only one solitary citizen has the courage to open his doors to the persecuted Doctor, his old friend Horster. But the mob follows him even there and howls him down as an enemy of society. Thomas Stockmann makes the discovery in his battle with ignorance, stupidity, and vested interests that "the most dangerous enemies of truth and freedom in our midst are the compact majority, the damned compact liberal majority." His experiences lead him to the conclusion that "the majority is never right. . . . That is one of those conventional lies against which a free, thoughtful man must rebel. . . . The majority has might unhappily—but right it has not."

Hovstad. The man who would ruin a whole community

must be an enemy of society!

Dr. Stockmann. It doesn't matter if a lying

community is ruined! . . . You'll poison the whole country in time; you will bring it to such a pass that the whole country will deserve to perish. And should it come to this, I say, from the bottom of my heart: Perish the country! Perish all its people!

Driven out of the place, hooted and jeered by the mob, Dr. Stockmann barely escapes with his life, and seeks safety in his home, only to find everything demolished there. In due time he is repudiated by the grocer, the baker, and the candlestick maker. The landlord, of course, is very sorry for him. The Stockmanns have always paid their rent regularly, but it would injure his reputation to have such an avowed rebel for a tenant. The grocer is sorry, and the butcher, too; but they can not jeopardize their business. Finally the board of education sends expressions of regret: Petra is an excellent teacher and the boys of Stockmann splendid pupils, but it would contaminate the other children were the Stockmanns allowed to remain in school. And again Dr. Stockmann learns a vital lesson. But he will not submit; he will be strong.

Dr. Stockmann. Should I let myself be beaten

off the field by public opinion, and the compact majority, and such deviltry? No, thanks. Besides, what I want is so simple, so clear and straightforward. I only want to drive into the heads of these curs that the Liberals are the worst foes of free men; that party-programs wring the necks of all young living truths; that considerations of expediency turn morality and righteousness upside down, until life is simply hideous. . . . I don't see any man free and brave enough to dare the Truth. . . . The strongest man is he who stands most alone.

A confession of faith, indeed, because Henrik Ibsen, although recognized as a great dramatic artist, remained alone in his stand as a revolutionist.

His dramatic art, without his glorious rebellion against every authoritative institution, against every social and moral lie, against every vestige of bondage, were inconceivable. Just as his art would lose human significance, were his love of truth and freedom lacking. Already in "Brand," Henrik Ibsen demanded all or nothing, no weak-kneed moderation,—no compromise of any sort in the struggle for the ideal. His proud defiance, his enthusiastic daring, his utter indifference to consequences, are Henrik Ibsen's bugle call, heralding a new dawn and the birth of a new race.